As the member of the Board of Directors for Rutgers University Dance Marathon (RUDM), one of the things that I constantly think about is current participant engagement and ways to engage potential new members. To gain some outside perspective, I had a chat with the Rutgers Hillel President, Raffi Mark, to talk about programming and student engagement.

Raffi Mark (center) with some of his staff running an Israel engagement program.

Raffi Mark (center) with some of his staff running an Israel engagement program.

Ashley Sam: About how many people does Hillel engage throughout the year?

Raffi Mark: Hillel engages 2000 Jewish students per year through our different programs.

AS: About how many students does Hillel engage at an average program?

RM: It’s hard to give an average since we target different sizes. Our birthright trips are about 50 students per semester and our holiday programming serves about 150 students per holiday. Shabbat dinner serves 200 per week on average, but our smaller scale programs reach 10-30. In a given week with the exception of Shabbat dinner we reach probably 100 students.

AS: How often does Hillel hold programs?

RM: Hillel holds almost daily programming.

AS: What are some of the major challenges that Hillel faces when programming?

RM: The main challenges that we face are attracting a new audience and advertising in a way that is effective and meaningful.

AS: What are some successful techniques that have been used in regards to programming?

RM: Techniques we use would include engaging new students in leadership roles to ensure new ideas, bigger attendance, and not being stuck to the status quo.

AS: How does having three separate communities within one organization effect programming?

RM: We actually have more than three separate communities and it makes it a challenge to balance the needs of each one to ensure that everyone is comfortable attending programs while still letting the differences be accepted. We also have the challenge of scheduling while trying not to have an overlap of program times.

This interview highlighted some key points that I would like to draw attention to. Both RUDM and Hillel seem to face the challenge of trying to engage new student participants and spread their messages to the student population. Though RUDM strives to engage 1,000 students for one weekend with maybe 100 of them working throughout the entire year, active participation proves to be just as much of a challenge for us as it is for Hillel with its wide array of daily programming. We also both deal with struggles of trying to connect differing communities. Though RUDM does not bring together different factions of one religious community, RUDM does face the challenge of bringing Greek organizations, community services organizations, and cultural groups together for one common cause. Another major commonality is the approach taken to engaging new students. Both Hillel and RUDM focus on getting younger students actively involved in leadership roles early. Seeing the similarities in these groups illustrates an important point. Every student group, regardless of their mission or affiliation has some of the same problems and successes. We are often put into boxes as “community service organizations,” or “religious organizations,” or “Greek organizations,” etc. Instead of seeing labels, we should all strive to see common struggles and work together to develop meaningful solutions.

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Rutgers Hillel President Raffi Mark and I at RUDM 2013. Raffi participated as a Dancer on the Rutgers Hillel Team.

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